Alan had never been all that great at riding motorcycles.
Fortunately, in this world, that apparently didn't seem to factor in as much. The high-speed whine of his light cycle cut through the silence of the Outlands as he sped on, the lights of Argon City still bright behind him. He found it a bit unnerving that despite going at such a high speed, there was no perceptible wind on his face; yet somehow the tail of his overcoat managed to flap in the non-existent breeze.
Perhaps something about me being a User and expecting my coat to react causes it to react? How much am I subconsciously affecting without realizing? The implications made him nervous, so he tried distracting his mind with other matters.
The Outlands looked as though they could continue on for miles... or the Grid's version of miles, at least. The signal was growing stronger, so he had to be getting close. He briskly took a turn at a large snowbank and saw a large, strangely pointed mountain peak above him. Bringing the light cycle to a stop at the base of the mountain, he got off and examined the area.
There's something about this mountain, he thought. I can't explain it, but I know if I was going to hide somewhere... it'd be here.
He placed his outstretched palm experimentally against the rocky wall and closed his eyes. Even with them shut, he could sense the vague lines of circuitry running through the matter in front of him. One circuit in particular gave him a little tickling sensation in his head. He opened his eyes and traced a line down that circuit's path.
A large shifting movement startled him, as a giant slab of the wall beside him pushed in and away, revealing an entrance.
Alan uneasily entered the darkened cave. Suddenly, lights ticked on around him in a sequence that followed him as he walked, illuminating a simple elevator at the end.
That's... certainly interesting...
The elevator brought him up smoothly into a huge, open interior. The large area had what appeared to be one-sided windows along the entire stretch of walls surrounding it. A perfect 360 degree view of the outside. So this was all hidden inside the mountain, he marveled. Pretty slick, Tron.
He walked up the small staircase in the middle of the room, which lead up to a platform overlooking the section of Outlands he had come in from. As he was about to stroll up to the windows, he stopped dead in his tracks.
There was something lying near the window ahead of him.
The man on the floor didn't move. The lit circuits along his black suit blinked and fluttered in and out, sputtering like a dying light. Large stretches of digital scarring covered the body as it lay there, arms limp and splayed out.
Alan quickly knelt down and checked the helmeted head, gently lifting him up and propping the body against the glass wall in some semblance of a seated position. His finger accidentally brushed past the jawline of the helmet, and it snapped apart, folding in on itself and retreating back inside the man's suit.
He stifled a gasp, eyes widening at the man's face. A younger version of him, marred by the scarring, but still unmistakable. The digital damage had cut across his face terribly. It almost looked like a disease was eating him alive.
It was hard to take in, to put it mildly.
So this was Tron. Sam had told him what to expect, but it still hadn't prepared him for such an immediate shock to his senses. Tron's eyes were shut, but not completely. His energy looks like it's almost gone. Alan raised his hand up carefully, tracing his fingers in the air. A thin blue UI grid appeared before him, and as he motioned with his hand, variables and dials activated on the floating UI. He'd had the practice up to this point, but it still made him marvel every time. So much of it worked off of instinct, oddly enough.
"Just hold on, Tron," he said softly... though he didn't even know if Tron could hear him at this point. "I'm going to divert some of the energy from this facility to you."
Alan entered the commands briskly as the lights in the large room flickered for a moment, and then surged back on. The lit lines across Tron's body flared, and the faint trace of four distinct squares on his chest blossomed back into a bright glow.
"Tron...?" he tried gingerly.
Tron's eyelids slowly opened, his deadened irises coming to life, focusing. His voice sounded like his throat had been dragged across shards of glass, peppered with distorted corruption.
"What.... who are--" Tron froze, instant recognition on his face.
"Hey, Tron." Alan felt sheepish saying it like that, but couldn't figure any other way of introducing himself.
The guy looks like he's been through hell and back. Alan's heart swelled with pity, but also ached with guilt. If I had known about this... if I could've helped Flynn... Then maybe...
But would Flynn have let him? All those years, he could've told Alan about this, but he hadn't. He had chosen to do it alone. Alan had his suspicions, but never imagined anything like this. Then again, who could?
"A... Alan-One," Tron sputtered out. Was he seeing things? Was this a visual glitch? "You couldn't be... you're... you're here ?"
"That's right, Tron," he replied gently, as he checked over some of the deep scarring on Tron's chest. "But just call me Alan."
Tron's mind was racing. "How are you here?" He strained to recall his last memories. So much was fuzzy.
The cold nothingness of the Sea of Simulation. An explosion. Pain.
Flynn. He had seen Flynn.
"Flynn," Tron whispered. "Where is he...?"
Alan's eyes fell at the name, his lips tightening. Just from that, Tron knew the answer. He made the same face in the past, when... when things were lost. It was strange seeing that expression on an older face that looked like his own. He caught himself after a few moments, realized he had been wordlessly staring at the man in front of him. His User.
"I saw him, he... he must have triggered a memory leak. Made me remember." Tron winced as he tried to sit up straight. "My vision had been cloudy for so long, but seeing him," Tron looked down at his hands. "...It brought me back."
His brows scrunched in confusion, then immediately rose in recognition. He attempted to bolt up, but doubled over in pain.
"Agh, Clu! If he's still--"
Alan raised his hand lightly. "Clu's gone, Tron. Sam told me about it," he took a deep breath, "He told me that Flynn.. he sacrificed himself to destroy Clu, to save Sam and Quorra. ...To save the Grid."
Tron slid back against the glass wall.
He found it hard to process the data. Too far into denial, but deep down some part of him knew it was true.
A warm hand tenderly placed itself on his shoulder. "It's all right, Tron, it's over." Trying to comfort Tron felt like he was also trying to comfort himself. "Sam is going to return... finish what Flynn started. I found out about this after he came back." His jaw tightened with purpose. "I'm here, too. To help. I'm sorry... I'm sorry it took this long."
A wave of relief washed over Tron. It didn't seem real, but there it was. Clu gone. The Grid free. ... but the cost had come at a high price.
Sharp pain scattered across him as he gasped. Alan fumbled but managed to keep Tron upright.
"Alan-One... Alan," he said softly, "I'm glad I finally met you." Corrupted sparks erupted from his shoulder. "But I think I'm..."
"Hold on Tron, I'm not going to let you die," Alan cut him off firmly. "I programmed you, remember? I'm here to save you." He flittered his hand across Tron's arm, revealing a floating set of UI nodes. His fingers raced to find the answers he needed. Working fast, he set about trying to repair Tron's code.
As he worked, the deep scarring slowly began to recede, small blocks recombining and stitching themselves back together all across his body. The power of the User, Tron thought absently. My User. Trying to save his Program. Through the pain, he took a kind of pride in his situation. Even if he derezzed now, how many Programs could say that?
Alan's brows knit in concentration. It looked to be working, he was actually doing it--
Tron spasmed in agony.
"Tron?! What's wrong--?"
Like a ripple effect, the previously repaired portions of Tron's body began re-corrupting at a horrifying rate, unraveling his work faster than he could fix it.
"I-I don't understand, I thought I defragged the subroutines, flushed out the trace remnants of the virus..."
Tron's eyes shut hard. That damn virus. That's what it was. What it still was.
"You can't fix this, Alan." His voice was resigned.
"What? But if this was damage from your fight--"
"That's not what it is. It's what it isn't."
"I don't understand..."
"Clu's virus," Tron grimaced. "His attempt to re-purpose me. I had already been infected before. Even though Dyson's virus had been stripped away, my code was vulnerable because of it... and Clu exploited that." His breaths grew distorted and ragged. "His virus slowly wormed its way through me... I never realized I had it until," his voice hitched, lost in a memory. "Until it was too late."
"Then that means..."
"The virus rewrote the vulnerable sectors of my programming, the parts that the old virus weakened." The corrupted scarring was back in full force across Tron's body, spreading across his face as he spoke. "If you purge the virus, that code... no longer exists. I'd have too few functioning clusters. When I overrode the virus and fell into the Sea of Simulation... well, that was it for me."
Tron managed a bitter smile. "Clu knew that I couldn't live without that virus. A bastard... right to the end."
The look on Tron's face. Not just the pain, but the exhaustion. The strain. Alan couldn't pretend to know what Tron had gone through all these many cycles, but he knew that he must've been through a lot. He'd reached his breaking point. Or maybe he'd had breaking points before, but this was the mother of them all. Alan could see it in his expression.
"Tron, don't give up on me." He insisted, looking through the code as fast as he could read it. "I'm your User, remember? Maybe I couldn't help you before, but I'm here now ..." Alan clenched his teeth, "and I'll be damned if I fail my Program."
Alan leaned forward and raised his other hand, bringing up an additional sub-menu of UI screens. There had to be a way. The damage was too complex and scattered to fully re-program at this point, and Tron didn't have enough time for that anyway. He swallowed hard. Don't give in, Tron. Please. You're the toughest Program around, and you've clearly been through hell.
You internalize the pain, don't you? It's strange... in so many odd ways, you remind me of myself.
Alan brightened up.
"I'm going for a Hail Mary on this, Tron, but stay with me." The scarring was still eating Tron up. " Fight." He didn't have long, and he didn't know if this would work.
Extending his palm on the secondary UI screen, Alan accessed a flurry of cascading sub-windows, each moving faster than the previous. He strained as his eyes lit up unnaturally for a moment and then dimmed back to normal.
Alan's overwrite of the damaged and deleted sectors had begun in full force, and for a moment he wondered absently if perhaps this is what Flynn had thought about. Bending the rules... breaking them? Creating something new altogether?
Once his command lines had finished, the floating UI screens hummed with a brilliant blue hue, beckoning him to press a final button. The light lines across Tron's body flared in tandem, as the darkened scars were suddenly imbued with that same bright blue and began slowly filling in, like a river covering a ravine. The scarring melted away along his form, finally retreating from his face and repairing its damaged tracks. An old familiar wave of alabaster light rippled across his blackened body, as his suit was once again enveloped in white.
After a few moments, the process was completed. Before Alan sat Tron, now whole and revived. Alan made some cursory checks to ensure that any traces of any virus was gone. He didn't want Tron going through that again... ever, if he could help it.
"Tron? How do you feel?" Alan ventured.
The Program blinked several times. His hands touched his face, chest; everything seemed fixed.
"I feel... better. Thank you, Alan." He paused, incredulous. "But there's something I can't explain... a feeling I've never had..."
Alan bit his lip.
"You were right about the destroyed sectors, Tron. And I couldn't replace them, not in the way you were originally programmed. You've gone through too many revisions and too many updates to be rolled back that far. So I had to... pull a Flynn. " He patted Tron's arm, smiling. "Heh... or at least I'd like to think that's what he'd call it."
Alan scratched the back of his head. "You know, Tron... Users like to think that they pass down a bit of themselves in their children, in that new being." He took a breath. "You're my Program, Tron. So I did what I thought I had to do to save you."
Alan pointed at Tron's chest. "I passed down a bit of myself... to you. I replaced those missing sectors with elements of a User. To be honest, I don't know the ramifications of what I just did... but I tried my best to make sure the merge would be as compatible as possible."
The silence was almost deafening. Tron reeled at the revelation.
"What am I..?" he asked finally.
Alan smiled tenderly. "You're you, Tron." He sat back, thinking further. "You're a Program... but you're so much more." Leaning in, he added, "But you already were so much more, even before this." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Sam tells me that new kinds of life-- of programs-- were already starting to form on the Grid, so in some ways, you're not so different. Everything eventually changes... Don't be afraid of change."
Tron nodded, dully. He understood what Alan was saying, but there was this strange sensation... this heaviness on his heart. Or at least what would be the equivalent of a heart.
"I'd been under Clu's control for so long," he murmured, "I'd forgotten what feeling was like. What thinking for myself was like." He winced, as his mind was slowly assaulted by fresh, now-unhindered memories of what had occurred before. "I could see everything, but I couldn't act. The memory leak from the virus kept my memories from being overwritten."
Alan noticed Tron's body language was shifting. Slowly he began curling up, his hands grasping at his temples.
"All those Programs..." His face scrunched up as he fought his feelings. "Yori... Yori..." His eyes shimmered as his voice stammered.
Then his eyes widened in horrible realization. "No... No!"
"Tron..?" Alan asked worriedly. It was as if Tron's whole being was convulsing. Now that his memory was free and clear to be accessed properly again, he was involuntarily experiencing everything Clu's virus had deadened him to before.
He could see the faces of every program he ever derezzed.
Every last one.
Tron's throat went dry and his hands covered his face entirely.
The kid who just wanted to help his friends, who just wanted the Grid to be free.
"Fight it, Tron! I know you can!" The words haunted him to his core.
Tears poured from his covered face. Alan was taken aback. Did Programs cry? He hadn't seen that before, and hadn't heard Sam mention that. Or... is this my fault?
Anguish escaped Tron's throat; he felt like he was going crazy. He had never felt this strongly before. All those cycles, all the pain he had repressed... the sadness, the loneliness. The loss. He had kept it down for so long. Something in him refused to bottle it up anymore.
Alan couldn't see what Tron was remembering, but this reaction, he knew. Tron was a fighter, a soldier. And it looks like a soldier going through the worst PTSD of his life. The guilt gnawed at him. If these User-created emotions hurt Tron, it was his fault.
He embraced the broken Program.
It felt like an eternity hearing Tron's muffled sobs.
Eventually they stopped.
"I'm sorry Tron," he whispered. "Part of being a User... of being human, is to have these feelings. I'm sorry it hurt you so much." He hesitated. "I... I could wipe those painful memories, if you wanted."
Tron took in a large, jagged breath and swallowed hard. He wiped his eyes, half-confused from the liquid, and looked square at Alan. His brows dipped but held firm.
"No," he replied simply. "I want to remember the Programs I cared about. I need to remember." He sniffled slightly, unaccustomed to this new, intense feeling. "These emotions may take getting used to, but that's exactly what I'll do." He rose to his feet. "Whatever may come... I'll get used to that, too."
Alan stood up and gently addressed Tron. "You're not alone." He couldn't help but smile a little ruefully at himself. "In some ways, even before the added code, I think you were a lot like me." Tron's face was like a glimpse from the past, but despite looking youthful, it had so much pain etched on it. It was a little too familiar.
"It'll eat you alive if you let it. Don't let it."
They both looked out the large glass windows to the scenery below.
"I know you probably have a lot of questions for me... as you should. I'm not sure how much I can answer, but I'll do my best." His eyes scanned the horizon outside.
"Sam and I are going to try and fix things," Alan continued. "There may be some bumps; we're picking up from where Flynn left off, but there are a lot of gaps we'll never know if he planned for." He turned to Tron. "But, if you'd like to help us... we're going to try."
Tron stared out the window, and closed his eyes.
"You know, I used to have a mantra... that I 'fight for the Users'. And I know that's still true." He inhaled deep and exhaled, opening his eyes. "But now I'd like to finally fight for myself, too."
He regarded Alan thoughtfully. "I want to help you make the Grid... that my friends fought for."
Alan smiled, putting his hand on Tron's shoulder.
"I'm glad. Let's get to work."
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